Adam Bird

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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Keeping Calm

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When I was a kid growing up, football kind of passed me by. It wasn’t until Italia 90, Gazza and the heartbreak of Turin that the beautiful game become a conscious thing to me. I knew that my Dad went out on Saturday’s and came home smelling of beer and that sometimes his van broke down which meant he had to stay in the pub, but the association with that and football wasn’t something I remember with much clarity.

After Italia 90 things changed, I fell in love. The Gills, football and everything about the game; except one thing - I couldn’t play. Which is not true really, anyone can play, its the easiest game in the world, jumpers for goalposts, simple. I just couldn’t play very well. Once I started secondary school and saw all of the other kids running around with a ball stuck to their feet doing Cruyff turns and keepy uppies like circus seals I grew jealous and wanted to be just like them but didn’t know how. Apparently they went training and played boys football and I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t because I wasn’t good enough. So I made a promise, “if I ever have children, they’ll learn how to play football!”

Which is where I find myself now, all these years later as a father with a young impressionable son who has shown interest in football at a much earlier age than I had. It started off with a succession of football kits as gifts from friends when he was a baby, but Oliviera Birdinho was a character, an alter ego that satisfied my own dreams of raising a prodigious footballing talent. It’s what we are generally, football supporters - we are hopeless romantics, daydreamer believers and live off an anything is possible mentality. The sky really is the limit and Roy of the Rovers is our everyday reality. One day I’ll play for England becomes one day my son will play for England and we believe in those dreams right up until the point they become hopelessly impossible which in my case, fresh from the womb.

The problem with a football supporters mentality is that it becomes easily fuelled and at the moment it is being doused in gasoline!

After a Facebook SOS for information and a quick search around Google I took Oliver along to a training session at the Northfleet Eagles. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and joined them the following day for a friendly match in which I felt that he performed quite admirably. After a couple of weeks, with him still thoroughly enthusiastic he signed up, registered with the FA and made himself available for league games.

In his first match the young lad that played in goal got an injury very early on and was replaced by Oliver who went on to make a string of fine saves and picked up the man of the match award. Every Sunday bar one he has grown stronger and stronger, more confident and playing in goal appears to come somewhat naturally to him. Some of the comments that have been made about his performances have been really encouraging and quite surreal listening to! I only wanted him to learn how to play football but instead we have a potential Harvey Lim on our hands!

Putting aside the whole fantastical element of my personality and focusing solely on my responsibilities as a father this experience has been the first of what will hopefully be many difficult choices that Stephanie and I will need to make. In this case it is a sporting talent, but what Stephanie and I need to do is somehow find ways in which that talent can be nurtured. It might be something academic, or musical, it might be Phoebe who displays a particular talent for something when she is older so the same dilemma will also apply to her.

There lies the issue, potential. What if Oliver carries on showing potential and applies hard work to training and gets to a level where he might actually be able to get somewhere with his goalkeeping? Do we put all our efforts into securing his dream - after all, it has to be his. There can be nothing worse than forcing him to chase something that is purely a figment of my imagination. Or letting the football fan in me take over and making bad decisions on his behalf.

I’ve done things in life that have made me feel proud about myself, but seeing Oliver be a success, even something as small as winning a man of the match award that level of pride for him is immeasurably stronger. If either of my children grow up to fulfil their potential in whatever field it is that they show excellence in isn’t that what our job as parent is all about?

We strive to install our values in them so that they grow up as we have done, we encourage dreams and aspirations but not force our own aspirations and dreams upon them. It sounds straight forward and it should be really. Stephanie and I haven’t been given a book to read that tells us what to do and how to bring our children up but we are working it out as we go. I wrongly believed that we’d done the hard part, the feeding, the nappies and sleepless nights, but thats nothing. Making decisions on what we believe is best for them, providing encouragement and picking them up when they fall is so much harder. But the rewards are awesome and infinitely more fulfilling.
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